NEWS | President Duterte to push Congress to pass the SOGIE Equality Bill

Malacañan Palace, MANILA — The meeting between President Rodrigo Duterte and transgender woman Gretchen Diez on August 19, 2018 was a step towards equality for the members of the LGBTQ+ community, both camps said.

Beloved Philippine President Rodrigo Roa Duterte and Gretchen Diez with LGBTQ+ champions including Bataan Rep. Geraldine Roman, the first transgender person elected in the Philippine Congress.

Duterte met in Malacanang Palace with Diez, candidate of Queen of the Philippines 2019, a transwoman who was barred from using the women’s restroom in a Cubao mall and was put in handcuffed, humiliated, and arrested for the incident. They were joined by LGBTQ+ champions including Bataan Rep. Geraldine Roman, the first transgender person elected in the Philippine Congress.

Diez said the meeting was fruitful, hinting there are actions that will shock the public.

Positive feedback from the President. After two decades, the LGBTQ+ community finally sees the light at the end of the tunnel. Many confidential actions were drafted that are guaranteed to astonish the public,” she said in a text message.

Gretchen Diez’ Official Queen of the Philippines 2019 Portrait

Diez earlier urged Duterte to certify the SOGIE Equality Bill as urgent. It was passed by the House of Representatives in the previous Congress, but was blocked from passing in the Senate by senators who repeatedly insisted to interpellate proponents of the proposed law.

The Crucifixion of Diez

In a now viral video, Diez streamed-live the harassment and treatment she received from the maintenance and security staff of the Cubao Mall in Quezon City. It was very apparent that the staff lacked in sensitivity and information pertaining to the city’s ordinance protecting the LGBTQ+ Rights and the newly-enacted Republic Act 11313 or Safe Spaces Act, popularly known as the Anti-Bastos Law.

Diez was dragged from the restroom in full view of many mall goers as she was brought to the basement office of the mall’s security. There, she continued to be harassed, not just by the janitress who accosted and verbally abused Diez, but also by the security personnel as seen in the FB Live Video of Diez who all contributed to the humiliation suffered by the transwoman. She was then handcuffed by the police who then brought her to their station where the Equal Rights advocates and supporters rushed to show solidarity with Diez and defend her rights.

Diez maintained composure as she was recording all that was happening to her to mainly show the treatment many in the transgendered community suffers daily from the uninformed. And all of these happened for a reason.

The Resurrection of the Equality Bill

The SOGIE (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression) Equality Bill, also known as the Anti-Discrimination Bill (ADB), is a proposed legislation of the Congress of the Philippines. It is intended to prevent various economic and public accommodation-related acts of discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.

The bill was first filed in Congress in 2000 by then-senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago and then-Akbayan party-list Representative Etta Rosales, in which the bill passed 3rd reading in the House but stalled in the Senate. Similar measures were filed by other senators in the 15th and 16th congresses which failed to see progress. The bill was re-filed by Defensor-Santiago in every congressional period in the Senate until the end of her last term in 2016.

In May 2019, the SOGIE Equality Bill officially became the longest-running bill under the Senate interpellation period in Philippine history. Supporters of the bill have remarked that the prolonged interpellation was intended by the dissenters to block the passage of the historic anti-discrimination bill. The bill’s principal author and sponsor in the Senate, senator Risa Hontiveros, has again called on her Senate colleagues to formally close the interpellation period, so that the bill can finally be subject for amendments and voting.

The current versions of the bill are championed by Kaka Bag-ao, Geraldine Roman, and Tom Villarin in the House of Representatives. It has been refiled for the 118th Congress.

In early July 2019, Senator Sonny Angara introduced a new proposal to Congress. “Any form of discrimination threatens social stability and economic progress in the Philippines, making it imperative that discrimination—or any act that establishes, promotes and perpetuates standing inequalities and disregards the right to ‘equality of treatment’ afforded by the 1987 Constitution—be reduced”, Angara argued. The measure would prohibit unfair discrimination based on, among other categories, sex, sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.

Duterte Supports SOGIE Equality Bill

Senator and former presidential aide Bong Go shared highlights from the meeting between the President and Diez, including several proposals to prevent the discrimination of the queer community. He quoted Duterte as saying he will work to push Congress to finally pass the Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Gender Expression (SOGIE) Equality Bill.

He said the Duterte administration, with the help of LGBTQ+ groups, is also looking to organize a national convention for members of the community to air their concerns and come up with policy proposals to promote and protect their welfare. Go added that one proposal was to create a commission for the LGBTQ+ pending the enactment of the SOGIE bill.

The LGBTQ advocates expressed their gratitude after the meeting and are looking forward to the passage of a law that will protect them from discrimination before the President’s term ends,” the senator said in a statement.

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